Category Archives: Page Turners

An unquiet cataloger

photo(5)“What is the greatest joy of Arabic cataloging?” asks Jessamy, “I will tell you: serious works with rhyming titles.”

The creator of Ghilafaat, a curious sounding Instragram feed and Tumblr site, Jessamy Klapper gives followers a glimpse of newly published Arabic and Persian book covers with a candid piece of commentary. Jessamy has access to a conveyor belt of interesting new acquisitions, from poetry to short stories to textbooks, as a cataloger at Columbia University.

Ghilafaat is a made-up plural of ghilaaf, the Arabic word used to refer to a book cover. Jessamy’s posts are a compelling look into the world of Arab and Persian literature. Ghilafaat is the only place I see these covers and imagery.

“Ghilafaat are the fleeting impressions and ideas you get from glancing at the cover of a book,” said Jessamy. “The things that make you want to turn back and look again…or hurry away!” Some covers stand on their own as works of art. The designs incorporate colorful typography, photography, playful illustrations, and collage. Others are more subdued. For a simple cover with a black and white portrait, Jessamy writes, “Here’s Ahmad Reza Ahmadi looking pensive again, this time on the cover of Naser Saffarian’s study of the poet’s work: A Poet Unlike His Poems.”

Jessamy shares these books because she loves the material. “Sometimes I am already familiar with the book or author before it arrives – I tend to highlight those books as well, just because I’m excited to see them! It’s like spotting a familiar face in a crowd of strangers.”

Here are three of Jessamy’s favorite posts from Ghilafaat:

1. I loved the Nowherelanders, for exactly the same reason I wrote in the original posts. I’d love to do translations of the Nowherelanders’ individual bios.


Meet the fascinating faces of Nowhereland! This is catalogued as a collection of short stories, but it’s almost like an art catalog. Each story is presented as the bio of a particular character, photographed and presented in detail. I love these ugly-cute-strange doll-sculpture-people. My Persian professor was so enamored of them, he got his own copy. Author/artist: Alireza Mir’asadullah. #persian #art #fiction #books #bookcovers #dollmaking #sculpture #mixedmedia

2. This book is one of my favorites because it has gorgeous illustrations, and it’s a bilingual edition. The book I photographed here is actually the second copy I’ve cataloged – the first one passed through before I created Ghilafaat & I thought I had missed my chance!


Gorgeous watercolor illustrations on (and inside!) this bilingual volume on the Emir Abdelkader. #art #arabic #french #history #books #bookcovers #coverart

3. This book isn’t really one of my favorite covers, but I wanted to share something that illustrates another side of this project – sometimes the books make me laugh. This one is a sort of tabloid-style ‘expose’ on the life of a star from Egyptian cinema’s Golden Age – Su’ad Husni. It has all the markings of something you would see on your way out the grocery aisle; insensitive, sensational questions in bold type, references to heretofore unseen documents, a glamorous photo of the starlet made ominous by a black background…On top of everything else, the author Samir Farraj has added a sort of pen name: ‘Ibn al-Shati” This title translates to Son of the Beach, and I’m really not mature enough to let something like that slide. ghila_3

WAIT, wait, wait—am I cataloging acquisitions at a respected research institution, or am I in line at the grocery store (of golden age Egyptian cinema, that is)? “Suad Hosny: did she kill herself, or was she murdered?” This macabre piece promises to include heretofore unseen documents and also declares that this “book is considered a historic document.” By whom, we don’t know. Side note: Author Samir Farraj seems to have a nickname of sorts “Ibn al-Shati’” which literally translates to ‘Son of the Beach.’ Hmm. #arabic #egypt #suadhosny #egyptiancinema #scandals #books #bookcovers

Top Image: Jessamy at the library, taken by Natalie.

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Summer Reading Remix


In anticipation of abundant outdoor leisure time, we tend to be overly ambitious in our summer reading goals. Realistically, most of us will be lucky to finish one book, let alone two or three. How do you go about choosing the perfect beach companion? To help, I’ve made the ultimate summer reading list, culled from magazines and websites.

Personally, I hope to finish “Can’t and Won’t,” the latest short story collection by Lydia Davis, before Independence Day. Davis manages to be profound and succinct; some of her short stories are just a few sentences. You can devour them between sips of iced green tea. What I’ll pick up next is anyone’s guess, but I’m taking inspiration from these awesome lists. Here’s to a summer of blissful reading!

The L.A. Times’ summer books preview is descriptive and comprehensive, I may just pick up the new Ja Rule autobiography.

Books to Read Before They’re Movies, because the book is usually better.

For the young or young at heart: NPR’s A Diverse #SummerReading List For Kids.

If all you really want is for your book to match your summer uniform, these iconic covers make the perfect accessory. Or, reference Vogue’s list of the trendiest soon-to-be bestsellers.

The Best New Books For Your Career. These career-oriented books are the perfect way to plan your next big move while relaxing on the beach.

You can get cracking on what might be the best books of the year, following The Millions: Most Anticipated Books of 2014.

Finally, summer reading for the cool girls. Hint: Includes the new 33 1/3rd, Liz Phair edition.

Artwork by Natalie. Thanks Jessamy and Linda for your additions.

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The Gift of Lit

Gift of Lit Library Manifesto

Library Manifesto’s book suggestions for the diverse people in your life.

1. Pen pal with a film fetish: “A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940” by Victoria Wilson

Maybe not as well know as some golden-age stars like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, or Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck appeared in some of the greatest movies of the time and always showcased her beauty and brains. New Yorkers can see her films on the big screen this December at Film Forum.

2. Lanky nephew with a future in special collections: “The Mighty Lalouche” by Matthew Olshan (Author) and Sophie Blackall (Illustrator)

This French postman-turned-boxer children’s story wins with charming illustrations. Archival research gives the story some historical backbone.

3. Uncle who doesn’t know the difference between Marvel and D.C.: “Super Graphic A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe” By Tim Leong

Comic con veteran and clueless novices will get a laugh from the way Leong has organized the worlds of superheros and villains into info-graphics.

4. Boyfriend’s equal parts bookish and artistic dad: “Journey to the Abyss” by Harry Kessler (Author) and Laird Easton (Editor)

German aristocrat and diplomat Count Harry Kessler (1868-1937) was friendly with some of the larger than life philosophers and artists of his time: Bonnard, Stravinsky, Rodin, Renoir, Gide, Monet, Mahler, Matissee, Verlaine, George Bernard Shaw, Munch, Nietzsche, HG Wells and many others. His correspondence is a snapshot inside an important period.

5. Photography loving boyfriend in journalism school: “Watabe Yukichi, A Criminal Investigation” by Yukichi Watabe (Photographer) and Titus Boeder (Author)

This book from 2011 looks like a scrapbook from the 1950s. Watabe’s photojournalism documents a murder investigation in Japan. Minimal textual information is given, recreating the mystery in black-and-white noir scenes.

6. Best friend who sees beauty in the small stuff: “Sylvia Plath: Drawings” by Sylvia Plath (Author) and Frieda Hughes (Author)

There are certain icons in history that the public grapples to understand better. Lives cut off too short that leave questions about the personalities and passions of great artists. Sylvia Plath is one. This book of drawings unveils another layer of her psyche.

7. Co-worker with all the underground tracks: “The Riot Grrrl Collection” by Lisa Darms (Editor), Kathleen Hanna (Preface), Johanna Fateman (Introduction)

The “Riot Grrrl Collection,” is an archive of assorted DIY culture, zines and ephemera from the feminist punk rock movement surrounding Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. As a bonus: throw in movie tickets to “The Punk Singer” about Hanna’s impact on the music industry and the world.

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Punk Papers

Mark Dirt Cover

Mark Morrisroe called himself dirt.

Mark Dirt, a new book, collects the writings, zines, and ephemera of Morrisroe (1959-1989), an artist known for his photographic experiments.

With Lynelle White, Morrisroe created Dirt Magazine, a zine of faux interviews and gossip with cut-out celebrity photographs. Morrisroe’s written stories and journals were stored with his ex boyfriend Ramsey McPhillips, who kept the archive for thirty years in his apartment. The papers have received little attention until now with the publication of Mark Dirt.

The writings are raw primary sources that appear as song lyrics or everyday rambling; one page from Dirt Magazine features a fanciful list of celebrities and what cigarettes they smoked. Medical records and letters from Mark’s friends, other artists and musicians, provide us with some insight into Mark’s life. The design of the book, with images bleeding off the page, is a nose dive into the mind of the artist with little guidance on how to interpret his retelling of the time period.

The book’s graphic designer James Brundage told LM, “it was a pretty interesting task – taking hundreds of TIFF files that weren’t arranged in any order and trying to piece together a narrative about his life.”

Morrisroe was part of Boston’s punk scene, made art, hustled, kept a diary of his adventures, and wrote poetry. He died from complications of HIV. Morrisroe’s art is in museums like the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles  .


Mark Dirt Inside Spread

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Copenhagen’s DIY Libraries

Demoteket Public Library Project

Demoteket, an underground zine and arts library, has sprung up locations within public libraries around Copenhagen.

Demoteket may be the most freeform concept I’ve seen in public libraries. Public submissions to the collection range from artwork, films, music recordings, software, to knitted lobsters(?!), or just about anything else you’d like to reach an audience. Even the Demoteket library’s shelves are designed and built by local DIYers. Here’s why I love this idea. First, it provides a new place for artists to distribute their work. Second, the contributions and users come from the same geographic community. Last, the system cuts out big publishers. Read more about Demoteket and see examples of submissions here.


I heard about Demoteket at this year’s NY Art Book Fair when I asked the TTC Zine Gallery, an arts collective and indie publisher from Denmark, about the zine scene in Copenhagen. TTC has its eye on the international zine community. Their book, Zine Soup, compiles some of these publications into one hefty volume. Each is handmade with individually silk screened covers so each copy is slightly different.

TCC Gallery Zine Soup

P.S. Summer coverage of International Zine Month.

Images found on,  Bureau Detours and Graphic Dirt

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Arts and Politics in Fiction at The Brooklyn Book Festival 2013

Brooklyn Book Festival

The annual Brooklyn Book Festival took place this past Sunday, September 22nd in Downtown Brooklyn. With the grandiose backdrop of the Brooklyn court buildings, scores of publications and niche presses were set up along the sidewalks, mailing list sign-up sheets at the ready.

Joel Whitney moderated “Arts and Politics in Fiction” at the Brooklyn Historical Society. A panel of three authors, Alex Gilvarry, Rachel Kushner, and Nicholson Baker, read selection from their latest books. The readings were sprinkled with insights and anecdotes about mixing fiction and politics. The panel description read, “Art has always been a tool for political and social change. In these novels, it comes in the form of protest-pop songs, motorcycle photography and high-end fashion.” After the event, ideas circled my head as I people-watched and collected free bookmarks for the rest of the afternoon.

The author Nicholson Baker wrote a protest song for his book “Traveling Sprinkler.” Baker, known both for his essay writing and fiction, suggested there may be more truth in fiction than non-fiction. Baker said that writers need characters and a fictional landscape to grapple with their real life emotions. When Baker writes non-fiction he finds one main difficulty arises: the inconsistencies of his opinions and ideas. From one day to the next, his opinions are morphing and shaping. His answer to the complexity is to explore that inner conflict in fiction writing through characters who struggle with those same ideas.

When writing politically, authors face the challenge of finding the right prose. About words like “drone” Baker said“You can almost hear the reader say, oh god!” Certain words have connotations that overshadow any other meaning. Alex Gilvarry in his novel “From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant” takes superficial characters and puts them in a serious and scary world. He had trouble using “Bush” and “Cheney” and ended up replacing “Guantanamo” with “no man’s land.”

Rachel Kushner, author of “The Flamethrowers,” spoke about watching political dramas unfold from the comfort of her living room. Kushner has read about Autonomia Operaia (a ’70s Italian political movement) and has friends and family connections to both Italy and Occupy Oakland. The people around us inspire our politics and our writing. Kushner’s novel developed through her friend’s literature and hearing countless stories about ’70s Italy.

Though many of the vendors at the Brooklyn Book Festival were also participating in the NY Art Book Fair, I felt a very different energy at each. The best aspect of the Brooklyn Book Festival were the families and diverse crowd drawn in by the wide range of book genres. I had a blast last weekend connecting with publishers and book lovers in general. Just for fun, here are some of my photographs from the festival. Read last Monday’s Post on the New York Art Book Fair too.

Brooklyn Book Festival

Passers-by filled a bulletin board writing their current reads on Post-it notes.

Brooklyn Book Festival

The eye-catching Penguin book truck was in attendance.

Brooklyn Book Festival

“Barf Manifesto” called out to me at the Ugly Duckling Presse table.

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Selections from the New York Art Book Fair 2013

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

The small press masses united last weekend at the New York Art Book Fair presented by Printed Matter at PS1.

With no admission charged, throngs of visitors went through the museum. Publishers used to working in small studios and home offices were packed together throughout the courtyard, exhibition spaces, and the boiler room.

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

The fair included thousands of art books ranging from monographs, to academic art surveys, to artist made books, zines, magazines, and theoretical writing. The inspiration concentrated there by the art book community was almost overwhelming. With festivities starting on Thursday, it wouldn’t have been possible to see all of the special exhibits of ephemera and artists scrapbooks, panel discussions about the evolving industry, and check out the oyster bar and book signings.

Publishers were able to share the stories behind the books with visitors. “It’s a big opportunity to spread our idea of what an art book is,” said Nicola Ricciardi, an editorial assistant at Mousse Publishing who was working their booth. There were so many friendly faces, and familiar ones too. But what I enjoyed most about the fair was meeting curators and publishers in the flesh and learning about presses I had never come across before. Here are a handful of the many that impressed me.

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

1. Draw Down Books displayed books with bright, simple designs. Their title “Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films” is just that; a simple catalog of the architecture that movie villains seem to love. Kathleen, a former librarian, and her husband Christopher started Draw Down Books after doing commission work for publications. They realized working for themselves might be more satisfying. When I asked Kathleen what makes a good art book, she responded “Someone who is passionate about making an art book.” A successful book takes a lot on the part of the artist to commit to making a quality product that people want to make collectible. Luckily, the artists Draw Down cold call are usually pretty happy to collaborate.

2. The Badlands Unlimited booth had print books and a Kindle featuring their e-books. I spoke to Matthew So about Badlands Unlimited’s interests in publishing original, unexpected writings and work from artists and figures more well known for other things. Matthew So gave the example of their book “On Democracy” which includes three of Saddam Hussein’s speeches about Democracy. As described on the Badlands Unlimited website, “This volume takes the speeches as an opportunity to ask what democracy means from the standpoint of a notorious political figure who was anything but democratic, and to reflect on how promises of freedom and security can mask the reality of repressive regimes.” I think it is bold to publish these writings and challenge people to think critically about how manipulative and immoral a political speech can be.

3. Three Star Books caught my eye from their incredible Billboard Book Project (A large format poster available in different sized book editions). Three Star defines a book loosely and, with artists, will build large scale books, editions, and objects of different sizes and forms. A more traditional book series that caught my eye was Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s RGB. Gonzalez-Foerster organized archival photos by color and created red, green, and blue books.

4. Issue Press, based out of Grand Rapids, MI, set up a vending machine to distribute their small, delicate pamphlets. They also had other folded up hand designed and drawn work. One that really stuck out was Time Poor. For this project artists followed John Muir’s instructions for where to go on a 24-hour visit to Yosemite. They did everything he said and hand drew a map of where they went and illustrated what they saw.

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

Thanks to Matt and  Stewart for contributing to the post, and Andrew for the top image!

P.S. The Brooklyn Book Festival was also this last weekend, look for coverage on the blog Thursday!

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Herbals: Once Essential, Now a Rarity

Leonhart Fuchs

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance books known as “herbals” were popular for their classifications of plants and descriptions of their medicinal and culinary uses. Even as summer’s greenery fades, plants remain verdant year-round on the illustrated pages. I recently had the chance to see some up close in “The Renaissance Herbal,” an exhibition at the New York Botanical Gardens’ Mertz Library, the largest botanical and horticultural library in the world. The exhibit is part of a larger program titled “Wild Medicine” about the many cultural uses of plants.


Before the advent of movable type in the 1400s, herbals were written as scrolls and manuscripts.

Page fro m al-Ghafiqi Herbal

Herbals were second in popularity only to the Bible, but as modern medicine developed and synthetic drugs grew more common, these books became tomes of a bygone era. Still, their amazing artwork and handcrafted beauty make them highly sought after today.

 Basilius Besler-Caltha palustris flore

“The Renaissance Herbal” is up at the New York Botanical Garden until September 8th. Here’s one stunning page (below) on view at the Mertz Library. Find more peeks  here.

New York Botanical Garden Wild Medicine page

Images, from top to bottom: Leonhart Fuchs, Basilius Besler, Herbal of al-Ghafiqi, Basilius BeslerNew York Botanical Garden,

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Meet The Cubies

The Cubies' ABC Front Cover

The groundbreaking 1913 Armory Show will forever have a place in art history as America’s grand introduction to Post-Impressionist art. Addressing those avant-garde artists is The Cubies’ ABC, written and illustrated by married couple Edward Harvey Lyall and Mary Mills Lyall and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons/The Knickerbocker Press. Though the book was intended as a criticism of modern art, I find its clever rhyming passages and imaginative illustrations to be playful and fun.

Scanning the book’s pages, you’ll see three Cubies experimenting with still lives and sculptures, yawning at traditionalists, literally eating words, and letting loose with a reckless abandon befitting the children’s book setting. Most notable for me is the lively vocabulary abounding in Mary Mills Lyall’s verses. With words like anatomical, limpid, ad libitum, and quixotic, you’ll want your dictionary handy.

The book was digitized by Internet Archive and is also available on Open Library. If you haven’t spent much time on Open Library, you should! Find more unexpected gems and keep me in the loop about digitized books that stop you in your internet tracks. Read more about the book and its reprinting here.

The Cubies' ABC

The Cubies' ABC


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